Erik Kwakkel, invaluable medieval book person, has been measuring the proportion of the page occupied by the text in medieval books and finds it to come out around 50% — generous by today’s more cheese-paring standards. His post at Medieval Books shows several examples. Nowadays we often see around 70% in trade paperbacks and our most generous designs seem to get down to 55% or so.

One of the surprising features of these numbers is how high the trade paperback number looks. But the number is misleading. 70% sounds like the type must be really packed onto the page — but the example below, which is at about 70%, doesn’t really look too bad. Maybe we have just become conditioned to less white paper surrounding our type.


One reason for the larger margins in medieval books was to allow marginal annotation. Erik Kwakkel also attributes it to conservatism: it had just always been like that. Another might have been the knowledge that, as very valuable objects books would be kept for years and rebound over and over again. Every time the book was rebound a small amount of the margin would be lost.

On margin proportions see also Margins.